Monday, July 18, 2011

Dad's teachings

I had an interesting childhood. My father was 50 when I was born, so when I was a teenager, he was in the middle of his 60s.

To any teenager, that usually meant that their father was "ancient", "old", a "relic", or any of those nice terms. But I was a different teenager, and this was a different father.

In my opinion, there was no cooler father. Whether it was that he was a businessmen, or could turn a room on a dime, or that he drove construction equipment(he was a contractor), or that I got to ride in it, or that he was a bull of a man with huge arms, and legitimately tough. Any of a number of those reasons described him. Most of all, he never dressed, walked, or acted like an old man, and that made a huge difference.

In an earlier blog, I talked about Dad looking out the door and watching me hit against the garage door while I was sweating out there. He'd give a smile and watch a couple of minutes, then go back to whatever he was doing. It's the little things. He'd do that when I was shooting hoops or hitting the baseball over the ivy fence of "Wrigley Field".

I think what made him most impressive was his physical depth perception(Guy, at over 80 years old, could park a Cadillac, without stopping, even if someone had taken up part of a parking spot. He wouldn't even touch their car either), but his mental depth perception too. He liked sports enough, but it wasn't an obsession of his like it was mine. He was too busy in business, and making deals, but he liked sports enough to watch them on weekends with me(and we never had cable, so those were special times too. You don't get those special times if ESPN is on 24/7 in your place).

What I meant by mental depth perception was his insane ability to notice the littlest things in sports, and those things that could help your game. He despised when anyone put a ball on the floor under the basket in basketball, especially when they could easily pivot and put it up, and that little act would end up in a missed shot or a stripped ball 75% of the time. He loved the screen pass in football, and used to regale me with the stories of how George Blanda had zero arm, but would call the screen and they'd pick up 15 yards at a time, and it'd open up the field for something bigger. Lo and Behold, we'd see the Chicago Bears(our team) throw a couple of screens and pick up 30-35 yards, and he'd cuss the TV out, wondering why it took till the third quarter to do that. No matter the sport, he had this crazy ability to see little things, and he'd be right. He could've really been a coach if he learned the games well enough.

The most amazing thing, though, was Tennis. He watched Tennis three times a year with me, and it was all the slams. He knew piddly squat about tennis, but he'd watch. And again, lo and behold, he learned a lot of rules of the game, and knew how doubles lines worked after watching a couple matches.

I remember when I was 14, and I was having all kinds of trouble with my serve. I was basically serving like Harold Solomon(if you know who that is, you'll understand what I mean. If you don't, look him up), and getting crushed by better competition. We were watching the US Open once, and Dad noticed the littlest thing that I never ever noticed when I watched Tennis.

He noticed the ball placement.

Not just how high to throw(I was throwing too low also), but where to place it. He didn't even notice it on replays. Dad just watched and showed me what they were doing. He had all the minute little details down, and he never played a day in his life(Well, one day he did, and he said it wasn't more playing than "chasing the ball around).

Dad's gone now. Passed at 82 years old. Great thing was that he aged gracefully, and looked 65. Walked a couple miles a day with my Mom, and exercised at 7 AM every morning. Seeing him all my life skewed the hell out of my perception of what old people really were. I keep forgetting that you are supposed to actually grow old like most old people grow old. To this day, it doesn't occur to me that it's wrong to actually grow old, and you should keep yourself going till the worms get you. Hey, Dad did, and I plan to do that.

As I move on and move up in the tennis world, I am still amazed that it wasn't any coach in tennis lessons that taught me how to serve(I took my first formal lesson at 13 years old, and I always sucked at serving in those lessons anyway), or even my tennis coach for one season.

It was simply an older father with inhuman depth perception.

Sometimes, life just works like that.

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